Believe it or Not: Nats Prospects

We're now just over a month into minor league seasons and there have been both some pleasant surprises and big disappointments in the Nats system so far. One month is a pretty small sample size, but some people will still jump to conclusions either that a prospect has put it all together or completely fallen apart. Today, I'll do my best to determine what to believe and what not to. Michael Taylor - 23 years old - OF - Harrisburg (AA) No prospect post is complete without mentioning Michael Taylor. Somehow I'm amazed that he's still only 23, as it seems like he's been in the organization forever (he was a 6th rounder in 2009). Taylor has roared off to a .275/.359/.549 start through 28 games in AA Harrisburg. This is the first time he's played at that high of a level, and he's more than a year and a half younger than the average player in the Eastern League.

Taylor's start includes huge increases in isolated power (.275 as opposed to .163 in 2013 and a previous career high of .179) and BABIP (.404, as opposed to .331 in 2013 and a previous career high of .335). While his uptick in walks is nice to see, (10.3 BB%, above his previous career high of 9.5%) he's striking out a ghastly 37.6% of the time. I want to believe in Taylor, and he still has tremendous upside due to his rare combination of power, speed, and defensive ability, but with regards to his early 2014 batting success, I am NOT believing.

Stephen Perez - 23 years old - SS - Potomac (A+)

Billed as a talented player who could never really put it together stat-wise when he was drafted in the 8th round of 2012, Perez is following up his .616 and .630 OPS seasons of 2012 and 2013 with an .874 number to start 2014.

The batting average is obviously unsustainable (.343 this year, as opposed to .222 and .236 over the last two seasons), but I do like how his BB% is trending up (3.8% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2014) while his K% is trending down (38% in 2012 to 22% in 2013 to 15.2% in 2014). BB and K rates typically normalize around 200 plate appearances, so he's not far enough for me to be a total believer. Perez's ISO is within his career range (.121 this year after .090 in 2013 and .142 in 2013), so really the main difference this year is his newfound plate discipline. I want to see 200-300 PA before I make a full decision, but since he doesn't have a long track record otherwise, I'll say I at least half-BELIEVE in his progression this year.

Destin Hood - 24 years old - OF - Syracuse (AAA)

There has always been a lot of upside with Hood. While his career .265/.327/.387 triple slash is not very impressive, he's always played in leagues between a year and two years younger than his average competition. That shouldn't completely discount his past struggles, but perhaps gives him a little more leeway in his prospect status. Hood has started off hot this year in Harrisburg and Syracuse, hitting .337/.376/.446 in 109 PA. He already has 2 more SB than he did in all of 2013 at a perfect 7/7 in SB attempts.

Outside of the early SB success, I do not believe in Hood's early 2014 success. He's still not hitting for power (.109 ISO this year, .102 last year., .117 in 2012), is taking less walks (5.5 BB%, with a previous career low of 6.3%), and has a batting average buoyed by a BABIP of .405, over 70 points higher than his career average of .333. If Hood decides to go full Souza out there and improve at an older age, I'll be extremely please, but I am NOT buying it.

Brandon Miller - 24 years old - OF - Potomac (A+)

I've never been a huge Brandon Miller fan. The huge power and huge arm are nice, but I have never really bought enough into his bat in general to think of him as much of a prospect. This year, he's started out with a really weird .168/.294/.430 triple slash, with 9 HR in 30 games played.

Miller's BB% has almost doubled over his career average (from 7.4% to 14.3%) while his K% has remained steady (28.6% this year, 29% before this year). He still strikes out too much, but I like the progress he's making by taking walks early on. As I mentioned before, it takes about 200 PA to get any type of permanence from plate discipline improvements, so he's not quite there at 126 PA.  Miller's BABIP is .145, which is an obvious outlier, especially given his career BABIP of .342. If is BABIP were even a well below career average .306, he'd be hitting .261/.365/.523 for the year. I'd sign up for that, and am NOT believing his early season struggles are something to be concerned about (at least any more than you were concerned about him before).

Jake Johansen - 23 years old - RHP - Hagerstown (A)

Like Miller, I've been lower on Johansen than most. I think he was a mediocre 2nd round pick by the Nats in 2013, but he was proving me wrong in 2013, with a shiny 1.92 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 2.22 K/BB. Johansen was always a guy who had better stuff than results in college, so it was refreshing to see him finally start having success with his blazing fastball.

Then 2014 happened. He's allowed 20 runs in 26 innings, walking 16 and striking out 23. He has a ghastly 1.692 WHIP and a poor 1.44 K/BB ratio. It's all happened in about half of the innings he threw in 2013, so it's still early to worry much, but I do not like him having more walks and less strikeouts. While Johansen is not allowing an extraordinarily large number of homers, he has gotten unlucky with balls in play (.370 BABIP) as well as a mediocre LOB% of 59.2% (average is roughly 70-72%), so all is not lost. To me, he's a guy who will struggle in his early career with control in spurts, so for now, I am NOT believing this as a permanent issue, but it is definitely one to monitor over the coming months.

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